I’ve been an arsenal fan for more than 12 years now.
I liked Leeds as a kid. My coach had told me about a young Australian winger who played for them. I didn’t know who he was but I thought I should probably support Leeds. I had no idea what that meant.
When I was 12 my grandpa told me his dad played for Arsenal back in the days when footballers were also bakers. The next game I watched happened to be Leeds vs Arsenal. One of the Leeds centre backs had a rubbish game and Arsenal won 2-1. I remember thinking Arsenal is the best team in the world – kids tend to make radical decisions like that. I forgot everything I knew about Leeds and decided that Freddie Ljungberg was my hero. Next season Arsenal won the title at Old Trafford* and sometime after that I become a fan.
Every year after my devotion and addiction grew. Being an overseas fan probably had something to do with that. Watching English football is difficult in Australia. For most of my life watching English football involved waking up alone at 1:45am, ten minutes of finding a decent stream online and then two hours of hoping it doesn’t crash mid goal. Here’s an insight:
Arsenal have a crucial away game. The ko is at 3am and I’ve woken up to watch it. The audio’s in Spanish, it’s pixelated and the frame rate would have been shit in 1890. I don’t mind too much because Arsenal are winning one nil. About 80 minutes in the stream cuts. Only audio remains. I can hear the Spanish commentator yelling like a vengeful evangelist. It’s incomprehensible until I hear the word penal. I hear it once and then over and over again. Someone’s conceded a penalty and I have no idea who. I sit listening to the emotional jabber and pray it’s not Arsenal. Then the audio cuts. It’s 4:something am and I’m sitting alone in a cold, dark room staring a blank computer stressfully jittering like a retired boxer with a coffee addiction. Suddenly the stream reloads. The Arsenal players are arguing with the ref. They’re pointing a lot and they look very angry. Oh. . . there’s an opposition player running with his tongue out. Well fuck. How the fuck am I going to get to sleep now?
It sounds stressful and highly unenjoyable and it is but what a way to emotionally indoctrinate someone right? I can’t imagine a more emotionally intense way to experience anything. Hey brain – this is Arsenal football club, whenever you think of it I want you to seduce me with a cocktail of industrial strength hormones please. Totally addicted.
Last week was the opening round of the English Premier League. Arsenal was playing Crystal Palace at home and I had a ticket.
It’s difficult to describe how I felt being there. It’s such a strange situation to know something so well but to have never seen it, heard it or felt it. It’s like watching a TV series hundreds of times and then suddenly, just for one episode, you’re one of the actors. Everything is so familiar but you don’t really know what to do. What time do I arrive? What do I do before the game? How do I enter the stadium? Where do I sit? Do you talk to your neighbours? I had no idea.
I started off at the Piebury. A redditor had recommended it as a popular prematch meeting spot – also I love pies.
Everyone around me was talking about Arsenal. I’d never met any of these guys yet we were all part of the same history. One guy, who looked suspiciously like a 40 year old British me, was talking about the Manchester United game. I pulled out my phone and looked at the score. It was 2-1 to Swansea at Old Trafford.
“Hey look.” I said as I passed my phone, the score showing on the screen.
“HAHA! What a way to start the day!”
I spent the next five minutes of my life enthusiastically telling various Manchester United affiliates to fuck off.
I walked into the stadium two hours early. I didn’t know exactly what there was to miss but I sure as hell didn’t want to miss it.
My seat was in the top tier at the clock end. The hardcore fans were directly below me. I could hear their songs and gasps but I couldn’t see their flags or faces. The palace fans, being right next to the home support, were my first point of sight.
The stadium was about a third full when the teams came on to train. I was too far away to tell the players apart but I knew who was who because of their handle on the ball. My neighbours came and sat with me soon after. I introduced myself to both sides and asked them every question about every player we had. We need a defensive midfielder and then we can win the title they both said. I disagreed. I’ve always had a naive faith in the players we have.
The game itself was terrible. Arsenal weren’t fit enough and our midfield dragged the ball around like a bunch of shackled inmates. Crystal Palace scored first, a cheap header off their first corner. The stadium, which had been happily bubbling and hooting fell silent. The only sounds penetrating the verbal flailing of the palace fans were a few particularly impassioned groans. This set the tone for the rest of the game.
Our centre back scored in the 45th minute, a clever header off a free-kick. It was one of the only chances we’d managed. It was fucking exciting but the all the energy and momentum it produced slowly turned to frustration as the game went on. By the 80th minute it was still 1-1. The fans and players were pushing hard – no one wanted to loose to fucking Crystal Palace – but nothing came about but more frustration. In the 90th minute I had accepted the result. What a pity this was the match I came to see but that’s part of it. The disapointment is part of the story, just the same as disjointed streams and 4am kick offs have been.
Then in the 91st minute we scored. Aaron Ramsey, my hero, my dream, the welsh jesus himself, scooped it in off after a few bobbles in the box. It went fucking nuts. All the frustration, disappointment and regret released in a moment of unshackled ecstasy. Everyone was bursting – yelling, flailing, hugging, hitting things, laughing – it was completely raw. If I wasn’t so overcome I would love to have watched. There’s no better place to experience such a raw release of joy. Forget arrivals, forget weddings, forget clubbing – football games are where it’s at. There’s no shame, embarrassment or inhibitions. No one is excluded, everyone is in on it together. It’s fucking beautiful and I loved it.
It was a very stressful afternoon but I liked that. The stress and joy are inseparable. I’ve never understood fans who say my team lost 4-0 last night. That’s it. I’m not watching this shit anymore. Don’t they understand? If you only want a disneyland experience where everything is perfect all the time – take some ecstasy and watch the lion king. Football is real. Every moment of sorrow and every moment of joy is part of the story. Each experience shapes the next experience. Every feeling adds and augments the next. That’s why I love it. It’s like having an extra layer of emotion to life. Kinda like being in love – it redefines all the edges of your emotion – all the highs and lows stretched out to new places.
Some people might think I’m crazy for being so emotionally involved in something I have no control over but I think they’re crazy. I love life. I love being a human being. I want to feel all the feelings of life as much I can. Being a football addict is just one way to feel more.
*The home ground of Manchester United.